My favorite animal is the elephant, (just don’t let my dog hear that) they make my heart beat faster even with their calm slow movements and tummy grumbles. This is an animal that looks you in the eye and reveals it has a soul. Whenever I can, I try and visit an elephant sanctuary. Thailand has strict rules have driven improvements in care for elephants in captivity since 1989 when the country suspended almost all elephants used in logging. Unfortunately, it left both elephants and mahouts unemployed. Thus small scale camps emerged to care and feed them, tourist loved the idea to bath and feed the largest mammal and have financially supported them.
After being in the North of Thailand and visiting some camps, I jumped at the chance to go to Thailand’s tropical old-world rainforest, said to be older than Amazonas, in Kho Sok National Park which is 285 square miles created in 1980. We were in for an experience at the only luxury tented jungle camp at the long established Elephant Hills. Welcomed upon arrival we were given instructions for interacting with the elephants and how the camp functioned, but before visiting the herd, we first went off on a canoe safari down the River Sok at the base of our camp through the rainforest jungle looking for clouded monitor lizards, monkeys and snakes. They wanted to immerse us into our jungle adventures to come.
Our late afternoon feed and bathing time with the elephants drew the excitement for us, we were all in but it was left up to them to join us or not. But happily at least eight beautiful elephants came around for their fruit treats; sugar cane, bananas, melon, papaya, whole pineapples and sticky rice balls with vitamins and salt wrapped in leaves. They each eat 30 to 40 pounds just of treats. Then after splashy nice watery mud bath we walked with them to an ‘Ellie car wash’ to hose them and scrub them with coconut husks. These gentle giants really seemed to enjoy the attention. But then who wouldn’t living in this spectacular jungle setting with your pals, getting a lovely buffet and going to the spa twice a day.
At the end of each day we had cocktails and different cooking class making the local specialties. And side trips took us to a morning wet market to interact with the locals at Ta Khun.
The second part of Khao Sok National Park is all about water, Cheow Larn Lake was created by the Rajjaprabha Dam, producing electricity for all of the southern peninsula of Thailand. This is one of the most spectacular scenic and dramatic waterways in the world. Huge limestone cliffs and Karsts mountains jut above the turquoise waters. The tops of lifeless trees reach out of the water depths in some places in a very haunting way. These limestone karsts can easily rival famous Halong Bay or James Bond Island or anywhere in Southeast Asia. This is currently a real undisclosed and off the radar spot.
Flying through the water in our long-tail motor boats we would round into a cove where the water was crystal clear and then further along you were in watery canyon between huge walls of stone. We continued until we came to one of a handful of floating overwater bungalows strung together in a quiet cove, this was Elephant Hills Rainforest Camp. Designed in a highly responsible and sustainable way by using solar and wind energy to run a unique waste management system.
A buffet lunch was served and kayaks were awaiting us to explore silently looking for the gibbons we kept hearing. This National park is pristine with camera traps producing photos of the locals; tapirs, golden cats, Asiatic wild dogs, sun bears, gaur, Sambar deer, and tigers. Though we did not get to see a tiger, we were happy with feeding the fish from our dock. Relaxing and being at one with our surroundings.
Back in our camp that evening, I spoke with our camp manager that we wanted to go back to have an additional encounter with the elephants. I felt our time was way too short and discussed that we needed to go back the next day, which we did. And are same females came right back to us… they do have memories like an elephants.